My colleague John Faville once offered, "A brief should be." I thought of that as I was reading WOW Branding's "Logo Savvy", where they suggest replacing the traditional creative brief in favor of ten evocative words. That is brief, and I think I'll give it a try. Hey, I'm a scientist at heart.
Until then, here's a question I suggest gets added to every creative brief template.
For existing products/services/brands/companies:
"What is the best example from your firsthand experience, from a customer you've actually talked to, that exemplifies the highest potential of your product or service in actual use."
For new products/services/brands/companies:
"Give me the best example from your firsthand experience, from a customer you've actually talked to, of their articulated need for which your product or service is the perfect solution."
Picking the ultimate example, either of how your product has actually been used, or of an expressed need that your new product is meant to solve is important. It places the high-water mark for success, at least in your known universe. (If the gods favor you, your product will be used in even more ways than you can currently imagine!). I don't want a typical example - there are plenty of those. I want the best.
And I don't want a theoretical or hypothetical example: "It's for the busy executive getting off a plane and grabbing breakfast in one hand with their iPhone in the other, and they've now run out of hands." No, tell me about a customer you talked to, who actually used your product (if you have one) or relayed a real experience that would lead her to your product or service (if you're developing or just rolling it out.)
This keeps it real. When I was directing a group of product marketers, I was always challenging them to move away from the abstract and get concrete. No talk of "the dealers' shelves" would last very long before we'd get in the car and go find a real dealer and real shelves. The same consideration should go into your brief. Not to design the whole campaign or product around n=1, but to know, for now, the apex of your current reality.